Are bottles biodegradable? (5 effects of glass bottles) 

In this article, the biodegradability of bottles will be questioned. Other topics covered would be: 

  • What is the bottle problem?
  • What are the types of bottles?
  • What are the impacts of bottles?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • Are bottles biodegradable?
  • Which bottles must be chosen?
  • FAQs

Are bottles biodegradable? 

No, bottles are not biodegradable because the materials used to make bottles are not biodegradable. Bottles may be made from plastic, glass, steel and aluminium. 

What is the bottle problem?

Our Earth is 70% water and so is the constitution of our bodies. More than 70% of our bodies contain water because water is the essential fluid that is responsible for keeping our lives intact. 

If there is no water, there is no start to life and a definite end to life. Just as water is dominant inside, water is also dominant outside. We all need to consume a minimum amount of water to make sure that we survive and thrive as well. 

It is estimated that an average person may require more than 2 litres of water in a day to make sure that he remains healthy and his metabolic functions and processes are not obstructed and complicated in any way. 

If that does not happen, the situation can worsen and can translate into grave medical anomalies such as dehydration, loss of function, and impaired behavioural and mental functions. 

This is in fact the case. Every year, millions of people are hospitalised because they are careless about their water consumption either by choice or without choice. 

To fulfil water needs, one needs to drink water. This means that we need to save water in containers and bottles that provide sound functional capacity in a way that water quality does not deteriorate in any way. 

This is where bottles enter the picture. Since everyone needs water to survive, everyone also needs bottles in which he may store water and drink when needed. 

The problem is that most of the bottles are made from a single-time-use, non-biodegradable plastic material. This material, although is regarded as a miracle material because of its increased applicability, has many detrimental impacts on the environment. 

It is estimated that more than 40% of the plastic produced is dedicated for a single time use only. The majority is used for plastic bottles. This single-use plastic is the major constituent of marine debris. 

Other than these effects, plastics are the major contributor to the greenhouse effect that causes global warming. Global warming, in turn, leads to a number of other complications that may include rising sea levels, melting glaciers, unprecedented weather patterns et cetera. 

There is an increased level of inter-connection between Earth’s systems and processes. This means, that if there is any anomaly at one place or aspect, that anomaly is sure to be reciprocated in other areas and aspects as well.

Global warming is the clearest example of this explanation because global warming is responsible for making the whole globe chaotic. The price of increased GHG in developing countries also has to be paid by the developed countries. As Rumi put it, “Every story is us.” 

What are the types of bottles?

Based on the material used to make bottles, bottles can be classified into some classes or categories. In this way, the environmental impact of these bottles can also be segregated and understood better. 

As per the studies, there are three to four classes of water bottles. These may be: 

  • Plastic bottles
  • Aluminium bottles
  • Steel bottles
  • Glass bottles

All these types of bottles will have different and varying impacts on the environment and human health, and therefore, it is imperative that those effects are analysed by keeping in view the said classification. However, it may also be conveyed that the said classes are no particular science. 

It is a randomised classification based on the materials usually used to make bottles. It is studied that these classes of bottles have their own ways of impacting the world and its people in a negative way. 

When there is consumerism, there are bound-to-be negative impacts on the people and the planet because the making of consumer products happens at the cost of energy. This energy is often derived from fossil fuels which may release greenhouse gases leading to global warming and other environmental problems. 

Another great issue linked with consumer products is that all of them will lead to waste generation and accumulation. Waste is that tumour which has the capacity to pollute and toxicate every aspect of life, thus making the survival of life unbearable. 

To assert the said statement, let us delve into some stats. As per statistics, the global waste generation stands at 2 billion tons which may increase to 3 billion tons very soon. This means an average person creates 5 kgs of waste in a day. The figures speak for themselves. 

With a large amount of waste generated, it will become further impossible for authorities to manage waste and if the situation does not improve, it may lead to a global catastrophe. 

What are the impacts of bottles? (5 effects of glass bottles) 

If the impact of bottles is taken into consideration, it is studied that these classes of bottles have their own ways of impacting the world and its people in a negative way. 

However, it is stated that the impacts of plastic bottles are by far the greatest and the worst. 

This is because the majority of bottles are made from plastic. Plastic is often regarded as a miracle material because of the fact that it is economical while delivering excellent utilitarian aspects. 

That is why plastic bottles are used most commonly because they fit the budget as well as the use bracket. However, these benefits do come at a hidden cost and that is our environment. 

Plastic bottles are known to cause a lot of harm because plastic is not biodegradable. That means that it can persist in the environment for a very long time. As long as a thousand years, as per some studies. 

While plastics persist, it causes various problems. It may be degraded into microplastics which are found literally everywhere. They may cause damage to life, infiltrate the food chains, may leach into the soil, and may also cause medical complications in humans. 

The detrimental impacts of plastic bottles are a sad but never-ending story that affects all aspects and domains of life and the environment. 

While plastic bottles are the most commonly used and are assumed to cause the maximum amount of damage to life and the environment, glass bottles also do not lag behind. 

It is argued that the environmental impact of glass bottles is greater than that of plastic because their production requires a large amount of energy. Further, the mining process which is incumbent to make glass bottles also leaves behind a lot of carbon footprint and detrimental impacts on the environment. 

Glass bottles are linked to the environmental problems of:

  • Climate change
  • Ocean acidification
  • Eutrophication
  • Freshwater ecosystem disruption
  • Water toxicity

As per some studies, the environmental impact of glass bottles is four times greater than that of plastic bottles. 

The environmental and health impacts of steel and aluminium bottles also can not be disregarded. 

It is argued that the impact of steel bottles is also greater than plastic bottles because the production of steel bottles will require more energy as compared to plastic bottles. There will also be 14 times more greenhouse gas production which is a lot. 

The extraction process that is adopted to make steel bottles is also energy intensive and may damage the environment in great ways. However, since steel bottles may be reused several times, they may have an edge over plastic bottles in this regard. 

As per a study, if you reuse steel bottles 50 times, then the impacts of steel bottles will be less significant as compared to plastic bottles. 

Regardless, the impacts of steel bottles over plastic bottles, as carried out by Life-Cycle-Assessment, is far greater than plastic bottles. 

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradability is the process through which complex substances are broken down into simpler substances by various drivers such as moisture, microbes et cetera. It is the natural process of the Earth to deal with waste. 

The main drivers of this process are microbes that include bacteria, fungi and various other decomposers. They decompose the natural products within months leaving negligible strain on the environment. 

However, as man advanced his understanding of nature and the various phenomena that edifice nature, he came up with many synthetic products as well under the guise of scientific revolutions and discoveries. 

These synthetic products, however, do not gel well with the Earth’s natural system of disposing of wastes and hence as a result, man-made products are not degraded for hundreds of years and are termed as non-biodegradable. 

However, it is not a rigid rule of thumb that man-made products are not biodegradable. Over the course of scientific evolution and understanding, man has created many products that can be degraded just like natural substances like eggshells et cetera. 

Examples of man-made substances that can be degraded easily may include biodegradable plastics or biodegradable packing peanuts. These substances are made from natural material and hence contain no synthetic elements in them. 

It may also be deliberated that these man-made biodegradable products may be degraded in a controlled setup with provided conditions of temperature, pressure and microbes so that any unwanted scenarios are avoided and no harm is caused to life and the environment nearby. 

Are bottles biodegradable?

After covering the basic type of material used to make bottles and also the introduction to what biodegradability is, a final stance can be made on the biodegradability of bottles. 

It can be postulated that:

  • For a substance to be biodegradable, the microbes must be able to degrade the structure of that substance
  • Most natural materials are biodegradable while man-made materials are not biodegradable
  • Bottles may be made from plastic, glass, steel and aluminium
  • All these materials can not be degraded by microbes
  • Therefore, bottles are not biodegradable 

Which bottles must be chosen?

Since the impacts of different types of bottles have been laid out in the previous sections, it is a general question that which bottle should be preferred. 

The most used bottle is plastic bottles because it is intended for single-time use. It is cheap but comes at an environmental and health cost

Glass bottles are safer in terms of health impacts than plastic bottles, but may require four times more energy as compared to plastic bottles. However, glass bottles may be reused a number of times, which does give it an edge. 

Steel and aluminium bottles are also more energy-intensive as compared to plastic bottles but can be reused a number of times. If a steel bottle is reused 50 times, then its environmental impacts are under-weighed in comparison to plastic bottles. 

Therefore, it can be concluded that although glass and steel bottles lead to more environmental problems like greater GHG emissions and complicated mining and extraction processes; these can be preferred because they can be reused, unlike plastic bottles.

Further, glass and steel bottles will lead to lesser waste generation and better recyclability.

Conclusion

Various materials used to make bottles were assessed and their environmental impact was also analysed. The biodegradability of all types of bottles was also analysed and it was concluded that bottles are not biodegradable because the materials used to make bottles are not biodegradable.

It was also concluded that although glass and steel bottles lead to more environmental problems like greater GHG emissions and complicated mining and extraction processes; these can be preferred because they can be reused, unlike plastic bottles. Further, glass and steel bottles will lead to lesser waste generation and better recyclability.

Frequently Asked Questions: Are bottles biodegradable?

Do bottles contain BPA?

Yes, bottles may contain Bisphenol-A, which is a known carcinogen and may also cause hormonal disruptions. 

It is suggested that bottles containing BPA must be avoided. 

References

  • Khoironi, A., Anggoro, S., & Sudarno, S. (2019, June). Community behavior and single-use plastic bottle consumption. In IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science (Vol. 293, No. 1, p. 012002). IOP Publishing.
  • Laville, S., & Taylor, M. (2017). A million bottles a minute: world’s plastic binge ‘as dangerous as climate change’. The Guardian, 28(6), 2017.

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